After our arrival at West Point, which was perhaps sometime in June, 1780, several expeditions were made for various purposes. I recollect that when we encamped out for sometime when on one expedition, General Washington led the army in person.
Washington was not always to be seen (like to many of the
other ofﬁcers of the army) crossing our pathways daily. Sometimes his labors would keep him out of our sight for a week or for two weeks at a time. So, it may also be stated, of La Fayette. who was the bosom friend and soldier brother of our beloved chief. When these two great chiefs were seen separate and apart from all the other ofﬁcers and in close and quiet converse together, then it was customary for soldier to say to soldier, “Now, boys, look out for a skirmish or a battle with the British.” “There is something brewing. I’ll warrant you, there is some plans laying.‘ “You’ll see, there is some grand exploit on foot now.” “Hazza boys, keep a sharp look out,“ etc., etc.
These camp byewords uttered on these occasions were not idle words, for so certain as Washington and La Fayette were seen thus. as certain it was that a skirmish or a battle ensued or some expedition was made and something worthy of remark transpired shortly afterwards.
Before an expedition of any kind was made. General Washington (if it was possible) would procure the services of a Minister of the gospel to preach to the army upon the Sabbath. This was another sure signal that some struggle was about to be made by the Commander-in-Chief. A signal so certain that the soldiers relied upon it with as much certainty as if they had received orders to march or had known the purport of the expedition.
When a minister was obtained, it was customary to make some elevation upon which the preacher stood by nailing up a board or two at some distance from the ground. Sometimes a few logs would be rolled together or piled up one upon the other. Sometimes an empty hogshead would be laced on end and a board or two laid crossways upon the head and a few steps of some kind erected along side of it to enable the minister to get upon it. The soldiers would be formed into a large circle around the spot occupied by the minister and after stacking their arms, they would stand on their feet or sit down upon the ground as would best suit them until the minister would deliver his discourse.
I recollect whilst upon this expedition that General Washington had procured the services of a minister who was quite a small man. A hogshead was placed on end and the men formed into a large circle around it. Within the ring the ofﬁcers (among them Generals Washington and La Fayette) were seated in groups immediately around where the preacher was to stand. The man of God mounted the hogshead and after praying and singing, commenced his discourse. He had proceeded to a considerable length therein and became quite enlisted in his own discourse. He was feeling no doubt the force of what he said. and was moving about with somewhat of a wannth upon the hogshead when the head of the hogshead had become somewhat loose. It gave way and he fell down into the hogshead. He being low of stature the upper chime [rim] of it almost hid his head from the view of the soldiers.
He continued to jump up and to show his head above the hogshead and still preached on. This caused quite a hearty and loud laugh among the soldiers. The officers immediately jumped to their feet. Some assisted him in getting out and replaced him upon the hogshead, (which was done by placing a board across the top of it) while others succeeded in quieting the soldiers and restoring order in all parts of the circle.
This accident happened towards the heel of his discourse. When matters were again adjusted, the minister mounted the hogshead again and proceeded with his discourse as if nothing had happened until he ﬁnished his sermon and made a ﬁnal close of the exercises. The place where this happened I do not now recollect.
Sometime previous (I think) to the treason of Arnold we went to what was called The Battle of the Block House. After the army arrived before that British post, it commenced bombarding it in ﬁne style. The cannon balls and bombs ﬂew thick against it. It was too strong, however, for us.
After playing upon it for a long time and to no purpose, we raised the siege and returned to camp. This block house was well fortiﬁed and besides, it was full of refugee Negroes which kept up a constant ﬁring with musketry upon us from port holes at the top of the fortiﬁcation and which ﬁres done us considerable injury.
I recollect one among the killed. He was shot above the shoulder on one side, the ball having passed in as stated and came out on the other side just above the hip joint. This poor fellow had been discharged but a day or two before we marched to the attack, but had patriotically volunteered and joined in the expedition‘. His name was Zeigler. He was buried with others and with “the honors of War.” Some of his comrades took his clothes with them to camp in order to give them to his friends who lived not far from West Point encampment.
We started to return from this siege or from where we had been encamped to West Point. There was one of our men, a tailor who had at the time. the stuff of a pair of pantaloons of mine which I had given him to make up for me and which bye-the-bye I never recovered again. As we were retuming to West Point. he deserted from the army and was going at the top of his speed to join the British. He was pursued by cavalry and others. When they neared him he ﬁred (having a musket with him) at his pursuers and his ball cut off a rein of an ofﬁoer’s bridle. After he had discharged his musket at the ofﬁcer. he was captured and brought back. They hung him without a court martial or without being tried, even “by the drum head.”
We being on the march at the time. continued it until noon. A halt being called, we sat down and engaged ourselves in eating a bite of bread and cold beef. The musicians occupying the centre of the column on its march, we had therefore no opportunity of knowing what was going on in front.
After we had rested and refreshed ourselves, we were ordered on. We had not marched far until we beheld this deserter hanging over the road, he having been suspended to the limb of a tree. We marched directly under where he hung. There were some refugee Negroes that had been captured in a house in our route. The ofﬁcers ordered the Negroes to hang him.
As l before stated, this deserter had been hung without the benefit of a trial. His offense was punished with immediate death. There were none in the army, excepting the soldiers in front, that knew anything of his execution until they beheld him hanging overhead in their march. The army moved on and left him hanging, a warning to all that beheld him. It is likely, however, that after the army passed that fatal spot, some of the soldiers were secretly detached to bury him. If this was the case, it never came to the ears of the soldiers composing the army that was engaged in that expedition.
At another time we were upon a march to or from some place, the name of which and the object of the expedition is now altogether gone from my mind. We had taken a refugee Tory whom the ofﬁcers had placed on the march with the provo guard. The night after he was captured, one of our soldiers deserted and was directing his course to the British camp, which was not very far distant. He was pursued immediately by three or four light horsemen who overtook him near the British lines. He having his musket with him, took deliberate aim at one of the light horsemen and shot him dead.
This was no sooner done than another of the horsemen ﬁred and killed him. They then cutoff his head and brought it to the camp. The next day the soldiers were ordered to build a gallows and placed the head of the deserter on a sharp pin (stuck into one of the posts) with his face turned inwards. They then hanged the refugee Tory upon the gallows and after he was dead, they took him down and cut his head off. They then placed it on another pin stuck in the other post, turning his face inwards and towards the face of the deserter.
The gallows was built in a yard in front of an old Tory’s house. We left the gallows standing and decorated as above described for the Tories to look at and rejoice over. They were prohibited from cutting it down. a job that they would have had few scruples to have done if they had been sure that no American’s eye would be upon them.
In our march we came to a place (not now recollected) and encamped for a few days. Whilst we laid here, a soldier was tried for some crime he had committed and was to receive seven hundred lashes or death, and in case he was to survive that tremendous ﬂogging, he was to be drummed out of camp. He was brought out to the whipping post and we (musicians), ﬁfers and drummers, were summoned forward and ordered to strip off our coats. The prisoner was then stripped (his shirt being taken off as well as coat and jacket) and tied up to the post by the Fife and Drum Majors.
This done, the Drum Major with his rattan in his hand handed the cat-o’-nine-tails to one of the musicians whose duty it is with the rest of the musicians to inﬂict this kind of punishment at all times. The Drum Major then said to the first (into whose hands he had put the cat-o’-nine-tails), “Give him ﬁve lashes and well laid on.” This done, the Major cried “Stop,” and then bade him hand the cat~o‘-nine-tails to another in order that he should do likewise. Thus the “cat” passed from one to another and from each, whilst he held it, to the back of the sufferer until he received the seven hundred lashes, the number of lashes contained in the sentence of the Court Martial.
Here it is to be observed, that any musician striking with a light hand at any time for the purpose of favoring the prisoner, such musician would have received on his own back the rattan in the hand of the Drum Major, and that well laid on too. The Drum Major has no merciful manner in the execution of his duty, but gives it as hard as he would be able to draw it upon the back of the delinquent musician. When this prisoner was thus whipped, he was found to be still living. He was then untied and laid down with his face to the ground and then pack salt strewed over his back. They then took a small paddle board and patted it down, heating it thus into the gashes, and then laid him by for awhile until he recovered a little. The salt was put upon it thus, after all, in mercy to him (to cleanse his wounds and enable them to heal), cruel as it would seem.
When he recovered sufﬁciently to enable him to march, we then had to escort him in playing and beating the Rogue’s March after him. We escorted him thus to some distance from the camp. It was admitted by all that the poor fellow had his discharge upon his back. He never returned again, or at least I never saw him more. in an instance like this, before ﬁfty lashes would be given, the back of the sufferer would be all cut and like a jelly, and the cat-o’—nine-tails would get so bloody and heavy that another cat-o’-nine-tails would be substituted for it, and so on until the ﬂogging would be ended. It would have been far better for the sentenced soldier to have been whipped with one only, for using other ones in the way I have described, caused fearful looking lacerations and dreadful sufferings. The cords being dry and small when ﬁrst used, they penetrated deeper into the gashes made in the ﬂesh than the cords would have done had only one been used. About this time we were ordered back into quarters at West Point.
Sometime after we returned to West Point, a circumstance transpired which nearly cost me my life.
There was a vessel laden with apples lying near the New England shore. Myself and comrades were very anxious to become possessed of some of them. As none of the musicians but myself could swim to any great distance, I volunteered to swim across the river for that purpose. l placed a knapsack upon my back and put the money into the lining of my cap and plunged into the river and swam across to the vessel.
when I arrived on the deck of the vessel, all hands were surprised when I asked them for apples. Some of them cried out, “Where the d__l did you come from?” I told them I had come from West Point encampment for the purpose of buying apples, stating at the same time that I had brought money along to pay for them, as also a knapsack to carry them over in. The master of the vessel then ﬁlled my knapsack with apples for which I paid him his price.
He and the hands aboard fastened my knapsack upon my back and assisted me in descending the wooden steps to the water’s edge. To the steps there were ropes attached on each side to hold on by. When I had descended the steps to the edge of the water, the master and crew of the vessel advised me not to venture, saying that I would be drowned and offered to carry my apples and self over the river in their boat. This offer I rejected, being perhaps a little vain of my abilities as a swimmer. But if I was a little proud of my performances, I possessed something worth being proud of, for no man I ever met could out go me in swimming. It seemed to me that I could walk (tread) in the water, as long and as far as it might please me, and could swim upon my back any distance I chose to swim to.
Notwithstanding the generous offer made to me by the crew, Idashed off into the water in ﬁne spirits and swam off with my load and succeeded in reaching better than half way across the river. I do not recollect the width of the river at West Point, but suppose I had swam fully half a mile.
All at once a monster of a sturgeon jumped up out of the water very near to me and made a great splashing and noise about me. Being frightened at this moment, thinking it might be a shark, I began to pull away for life. This swimming in so hurried and hard a manner caused me to let water into my throat which strangled me very much and I began to sink. But as a kind Providence would have it, the tide was out at the time and when I began to sink, I found bottom with my feet. This so encouraged me at the moment that my strength renewed itself and by making a powerful effort, I succeeded in reaching the land and my comrades in safety with my apples.
As is with the jack tar in a storm, it was with me then. This made a deep impression for the moment, but I suppose it was soon lost in making our eager repast, that of feasting upon my cargo of mellow and delicious apples. The ship’s crew cheered tremendously when they saw me reach the shore in safety.
The musicians had a certain duty besides camp duty to perform daily. Sometimes once each day and sometimes twice, we had to repair with the Drum and Fife Majors to a short distance from the camp and practice in playing on the life and in beating on the drum. The Fife Major taught the tifers and the Drum Major the drummers. There were, however, grown musicians that had not to attend these musical drills. Some of them though accompanied us and assisted the Drum and Fife Majors in teaching. There was one of this class, a ﬁfer named Brown who was a British deserter. He was a capital ﬁfer. Brown frequently assisted the Fife Major in his duties of teaching.
When I lived in Wormelsdorf, Pa., after the Revolution and previous to the Whiskey Insurrection, Brown passed through there as an enlisted soldier in a company of regulars, which was bound westward in its march to join General Wayne’s army in its expeditions against the Indians down the Ohio River.
When this duty of practicing upon the fife and drum was ended (it being done early in the forenoon in general or else late in the afternoon) we were then at liberty generally to amuse ourselves by strolling out in different directions and for various purposes. Oftentimes we made up companies and went to the river to bathe or to fight a sham battle in the river.
There was a large round rock (ﬂat upon the top) in the Hudson River and which stood within 30 or 40 yards of the shore. It was quite a perpendicular rock at the sides. When the tide was out it was generally bare for the most part. Sometimes when the tide was not very high. a foot or so of some parts of its surface would show itself above the water. We called this our Fort.
We musicians and others of the younger soldiers would often make up companies, appoint our Captains and other ofﬁcers, and repair to this rock to have sport in taking and retaking this Fort from each other. I being among the best of the swimmers was always chosen to belong to that company which was to act the part of the besiegers.
We made large balls of grass by twisting it and winding it like yarn into a ball. One party would take possession of it and the men of the other party would swim up as a squadron abreast and endeavor to take it by storm. When we came near, our bombardment and a general action took place. We would pelt those upon the rock with our grass balls whilst they in return would pelt us.
if we could succeed in getting upon the rock we would grapple with its possessors and defenders and succeeded often in pushing them off from the top of the Fort. Sometimes when clinched thus, several pairs would plunge over its sides into the water together. When this happened to be the case, all knew their duty to themselves and to each other, and would instantly relinquish their holds one upon the other. If a number succeeded in reaching the top of the rock, all those upon it would often (after consuming their ammunition) jump off into the water. which done, the besiegers became the besieged in turn and the besieged (that was) became the besiegers. This mode of warfare afforded us much good sport. Sometimes we would dive from off its top. Other times we would stand on its edge and turn somersets into the water.
Owing to the hill rising very bluff and high from the shore, the water at this place was very deep. I recollect in diving down along side of this rock that its sides were perpendicular like to a wall of a house. Sometimes when we were there and in the midst of our pleasant sport. the Orderly Drummer at camp would beat up the Drummer’s Call. Each musician would (upon hearing the first tap of the drum) plunge into the water, swim swiftly to shore and then be all splutter, for after picking up his clothes, each would dress the best way he could as he ran for camp.
When the tide made strong to the shore it acted as conqueror in taking possession of our Fort, and would not permit us to play upon its surface. At such a time its top would often be many feet under water. When this was the case, we recreated ourselves by perfonning in some other way. Hopping, jumping and running often afforded us plenty of amusement.
CONTINUED NEXT MONTH….